To Illonka Javette Hines, having a diverse set of interests is a big part of being a successful professional. But it took some time before she learned to share her more artistic side with others.
“I think starting out, I wish I had known that I didn’t have to limit myself,” she said. “I could still be an artist and be a professional person.”
Hines, a published poet and Head of Supplier Diversity and Sustainability at Citi, explained, “You have to do the things you’re passionate about, because that’s going to drive you as a professional. And when you’re talking about your interests at work, it’s okay to share that side of yourself. People want to know about that human side of you.”
And, she continued, it’s also okay to let personal interests be just that – interests. You don’t have to be flawless at every hobby you pick up. “Even if you’re not perfect at it, it’s still okay to go for it. I’m learning to play the guitar, and that doesn’t mean I need to be at the level of perfection. It just means you have to try your best.”
Career Path in Supply Chain Management
Hines grew up in LaGrange, Georgia, and despite her small-town upbringing, she had big dreams. “I had these great thoughts of singing on Broadway,” she recalled. Instead, she ended up going to law school at Wake Forest. But as she was nearing graduation, she was still unsure about what she really wanted to do.
“I had a good friend at IBM, who told me about a transformation within the company’s supply chain management organization and they were looking for lawyers,” Hines explained. The procurement world seemed dynamic and interesting – and working at IBM was certainly appealing to her. “I was very excited to go to IBM. They were really on the cusp of taking procurement and supply chain management to the next level.”
At IBM, procurement had a lot to do with contracts and negotiation. Hines began working in software licensing. “It allowed me to be somewhat creative,” she explained. When the company offered her the opportunity to move to New York to be part of, and better yet, manager of its supply chain leadership program, she jumped at the chance, remembering the Broadway dreams she had as a child. She moved on to work in supply chain recruiting for the company, and ran supply chain diversity for a few years, then moved back into a sourcing role.
“I feel like I grew as an individual at IBM,” she explained, “But in 2008, I felt like it was time for a change. I felt like I needed to challenge myself more in terms of what I could do. And of course, 2008 was a very challenging time.”
Hines was offered a role at Citi in managing supplier diversity. The bank’s program has been in place for 30 years, she explained, and Citi was eager to refresh it and take it to the next level by building more engagement around the program within the company. “Then sustainability was added to my responsibilities and that has been exciting for me,” she added.
Hines has many achievements to be proud of. One key accomplishment was having her poetry published. She is also proud of passing both the Georgia and New York State Bar (and is an active member of the New York State Bar), despite not practicing law for her career.
“But the sustaining thing so far that I would highlight was co-creating the ‘Tuck-WBENC Executive Program brought to you by IBM,’” she said. The program was established in 2003 as an executive development program for female business owners. “It’s phenomenal to see something that has sustained itself for so long, and to see many other companies come on board as sponsors.”
Currently, she is working to drive change at Citi. “We’re collaborating with many other departments and business units, and working to raise awareness from an economic perspective about the benefits of supplier diversity and utilizing Citi’s intellectual capital to drive change and create jobs. I’m proud to say spend has already increased for diverse suppliers.”
The bank is working to look at the business of supplier diversity. “We have gotten the opportunity over the past year or so to look beyond the word “diversity” and think about what diverse suppliers bring to the table.” She continued, “In the 21st century, Citi has gotten engaged in creating focused goals throughout the sourcing process and working more directly with our sourcing unit.”
Citi is also working to collaborate with other banks on increasing supplier diversity, which Hines says is critical for building a more robust and diverse supplier community.
Hines says many women limit themselves by trying to do just the opposite – striving for perfection. “Many women feel the need to be a superwoman. And I believe we can do and be all things. But we have to be careful of assuming superwoman status for everything in our lives. It’s okay to say no or to delegate.”
Focusing on being everything to everyone can also lead women to feel inadequate or guilty when they do say no. “It’s about accepting who we are and when we make a decision to say no, knowing that that’s okay.”
She also encouraged women to keep an open mind about their careers. “Even if I’m not going to sing on Broadway, I can still make a name for myself as a professional. I love being in supply chain management. There are so many opportunities in this space, and women have to be open to that and explore all the options.”
Particularly for junior women beginning their careers, she continued, “Think about who you are and what you are interested in. Money is important, but how you feel and what resonates with you at the end of the day is most important.”
Finally, she advised, “Always stay inspired. Even if you’re not in an ideal work situation or if you’re making the decision to make the leap forward, keep that as part of your spirit. Always stay inspired.”
In Her Personal Time
Hines continues to write poetry and hopes to have more published in the future. Her four-year old daughter is also providing inspiration to her growing guitar skills. “All I need to do is just strum, and she actually thinks it’s music,” she said with a laugh.
She is an active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, serving as the organization’s current Standards Chair. She also established the group’s mentorship program. Additionally, Hines is an active member of the Westchester County Chapter of The Links. She is also an active member of the New York State Bar. Most recently, she was elected to serve to serve on the board of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) as its secretary.
“Philanthropy is something I love and is very fulfilling, and I’ve found that my four-year old loves to do community service,” she said. She also loves to travel with her husband and daughter.